August 25, 2016 - June 12, 2017
This exhibit traces the musical beginnings, the challenges, and the successes of the Country Music Hall of Fame band. Cousins Jeff Cook, Teddy Gentry, and Randy Owen formed their first group as teenagers in small-town Fort Payne, Alabama. For a decade, the band honed its unique, crowd-pleasing blend of country music and Southern rock, playing nightclubs in the Southeast. In 1979, the group recruited Massachusetts-born Mark Herndon to become their drummer, and the band signed with RCA in 1980. Alabama would go on to become one of the most beloved bands in the country, scoring over 40 chart-topping singles, selling more than 70 million albums worldwide and setting concert attendance records.
Alabama were trailblazers, performing as a band. At the time, in country music, this was revolutionary. They were true to themselves, the same whether on or off the stage, performing in jeans and sneakers. Their rocking guitars and harmony-based vocals proved immensely influential and popular. Alabama’s sound widened country’s appeal to young listeners. The band has earned many industry awards, including CMA Entertainer of the Year honors for 1982, 1983 and 1984. Alabama was named ACM’s Artist of the Decade, for the 1980s. By 1993 the group had released 32 #1 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, including “Mountain Music,” “Dixieland Delight,” “Love in the First Degree,” “Song of the South,” and other classics, often referencing their Southern roots.
Alabama was among the first crossover country acts to play large performance venues, incorporating arena-rock-style production and sounds into their shows. Singing, playing their instruments and writing many of their songs, Alabama inspired a trend toward the formation and promotion of other self-contained bands in country music.Alabama was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Founding members Cook, Gentry and Owen continue to record and tour. In 2014 Alabama returned to its Southern gospel roots with Angels Among Us: Hymns & Gospel Favorites, which earned a Dove award from the Gospel Music Association. Last year Alabama reached #2 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart with Southern Drawl, their first album of new material since 2001.
The exhibit spotlights Alabama’s humanitarian efforts. The group’s long-running June Jam in Fort Payne, Ala., raised millions of dollars for local charities, and their support of St. Jude Children’s Hospital inspired other country artists to follow suit.
Exhibition highlights include:
- Jeff Cook’s first electric guitar, a 1960s Silvertone U-1, that he played in his first band
- Randy Owen’s Music Man Sting Ray I, used to write hits such as “Mountain Music.” and played by Brad Paisley when he recorded his tribute to the group, “Old Alabama”
- Original, handwritten manuscript for “Born Country,” by Byron Hill and John Schweers
- Table-top radio that belonged to Teddy Gentry’s grandfather, “Paw Paw,” on which Gentry heard country music growing up
- Numerous awards, including Grammy, ACM, and CMA trophies presented to Alabama
- Gibson J-50 acoustic guitar that belonged to Randy Owen’s father, used by Owen on early recordings
- Brocade suit, one of Jeff Cook’s first stage costumes.
- Fringed suede shirt, given to Gentry by William Lee Golden of the Oak Ridge Boys at Alabama’s first June Jam, 1982.